Thursday, May 19, 2011

Electronic Whiteboards -a waste of money?

The illustration is part of a wonderful mural put together by year one and two students as part of a school jubilee celebrations . It seems to sum up the educational beliefs of the time. The green lipped blackboard is the number one piece of technology with all children sitting in rows ready to receive teacher determined information. The clock controls the day, literacy and numeracy are the main fare, the laptops ( teaching tablets) are around the wall, and the special needs area is in the corner. In a way not that much has changed - basic assumptions have not really been challenged. Teachers still 'deliver' what has to be learnt.

A couple of errors in the mural - the children are facing the wrong way and the teacher ( bottom right) ought to be enormous.

For the students involved making the mural was a powerful learning experience - making anything is better than sitting and listening to a teacher 'transmit' what they ought to be learning.

I am sick of being shown electronic blackboards as I visit school as examples of how modern and up to date the school is. I am not saying that they aren't useful but they are no silver bullet considering the tremendous amount of money spent to buy them - money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Mind you the same could be said for the computers that every class must have to learn. Both are a case of 'oversold and underused' - or badly used. They just seem to have been 'added on' to current teaching approaches when they have the power to transform learning ( and the teacher's role) - particularly the computers.

I always look, when visiting schools, to see how they are being used and am mostly disappointed. Before such electronic wonders can be used properly the approach to learning (and teaching) needs to be changed. Sometimes I think the most important thing is just to have them - a sign the school is on the ball. When I was a principal ( last century!) one of our Board of Trustees was always at me to get computers for the classrooms. I resisted but eventually gave in - it is tough being seen as a Luddite . I thought the Board member concerned would be keen to see how we were using them but, it seemed, the important thing was just to have them -after all every other school had them. A case , it seems, of keeping up with the Jones. And parents who visit see them and think wow! this must be a good school.

With learner centred education the computer , with their access to unlimited information, are wonderful assets. But while we remain with teacher determined learning compounded with the current fixation on literacy and numeracy them this realisation will have to wait.

Next time you are in classroom read the products of the children's research arising out of their 'inquiry' programme and you will see that few students are able to develop anything that might be called research writing. This is ironic because students spend most of their time being instructed in literacy; little seems to transfer.

Back to whiteboards.

Currently they seem to be seen as the great step toward 21stC learning - well worth the thousand of dollars they cost each. Principals proudly show them off as if they will solve all educational problems.

Of course teachers and students love them but one expert ,after a years experimenting, gave his away. There was nothing unique, he said, they could do. Instead, he said, he would've use the wasted money to buy a number of more useful pieces of technology that students could use to personalise their learning and to create range of presentations of their findings. His conclusion. That, without time and training, they were no more than expensive overhead projectors.

More than that he continues they are 'an under-informed and irresponsible purchase.

He writes that they do little more than reinforce a teacher-centric model of learning' simply 'replicating traditional instructional practices' - 'digital dinosaurs'., and asks do we really want to spend thousands of dollars on a tool that makes stand-and-delver instruction easier?'

His biggest concern (and mine) is that they are poorly aligned with vision of education that many people claim to believe in.

He describes a great classroom as:

'In the best classrooms , students are involved in creating knowledge together.They're studying topics, designing experiments, collaborating with peers, and challenging one another preconceived notions.While the teacher is always present to guide and to facilitate, the students are empowered to discover and grow independently.'

He writes that that sounds great but it requires turning control over to the learners.If we did this, he says, we would see engagement and motivation grow and classrooms would be come innovative places.'

And in such learning communities we would see the power of computer technology in full flight solving problem that have attracted the students attention.

Ironically it is only by changing teachers minds first that will see the power of modern technology realised. Not the other way around. For this to happen teachers ought to place their focus on realising the vision of the New Zealand curriculum which asks teachers to develop their students as 'seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge'.

They , however, do suit the current emphasis on literary and numeracy, and the regressive attempt to introduce National Standards into our schools.

He concludes ,'why are we waisting money on interactive whiteboards - tools that do little to promote independent discovery and collaborative work?

I couldn't agree more.
If ,as a teacher, you were given eight thousand dollars where would you spent it?
See what our blogger would do.


Allan Alach said...

Well said.

My sabbatical, in term 4, 2009, investigated the use of IWBs and as part of this I went to check out the scene in England. The more I learned, the more convinced I became that these things are a waste of money and time, as well as headed for the obsolete bin. My sabbatical report is on the MOE website, for those who are interested.

I'm not anti-technology however, given that I'm the director of an ICTPD Cluster! The key factor, as always, is the teacher.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Allan. You will of course recognize quotes from the link you sent me.

Only when real inquiry, based on students questions, and utilizing the creative arts, will technology be well used.

I hope all teachers start to read the so called research their students are doing to see if it is real research - research that leads to more questions than answers; that includes students 'voice', and point of view.

And I hope teachers see the vital link between literacy information research skills and their inquiry studies. One can't happen without the other.

The inquiry topic(s) should drive the learning.

Exiting relevant contexts leading to in-depth inquiry and expression make all learning memorable.

Love to see some real inquiry. All I see is 'cut and paste' bi -passing interrogation by the brain.

Rory Fugerson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.